Networking to get working

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Courtesy of Energy Institute (EI)

How do you take your first steps into the oil and gas industry? What can you expect from your career, and how do you create opportunities to move your career forward? These were just a few of the questions considered as part of the Professional Development programme at this year’s IP Week, as Sue Beard, Professional Development Team Manager, explains.

Now in it’s fourth year, the Professional Development (PD) programme acts as a kind of fringe event to the main IP Week programme, catering specifically to those taking their first steps into the profession. Delegates get access to the main conference, and attend a series of special sessions over the three days – in which they get a chance to meet the most senior and influential professionals in oil and gas in an informal atmosphere. This year the programme was sponsored by Schlumberger. Combined with input from the EI Benevolent Fund, Schlumberger’s sponsorship meant that this year the event welcomed 30 young professionals over the course of three days.

Sclumberger’s Simon Bittleston, Vice President – Research, kicked off the first of two career Q&A sessions on day one of the programme. Bittleston’s career has taken him to many other parts of Schlumberger’s business with periods in Norway, Paris and Houston. Bittleston described how he had first joined Schlumberger in 1985 with a PhD in fluid mechanics to take up a research role looking at the practical issues of the use of concrete in wells, something which continues to be a hot topic today. In Norway, he became involved in projects monitoring seismic activity, including the design of Q Marine. His work changed dramatically in 2001 when he relocated to Texas to run Schlumberger’s engineering and manufacturing operations: ‘I went from managing 80 people to 10,000 – quite a shock!’

While this may have seemed like a challenge, it was also one thrown down in line with Schlumberger’s staff development ethos. ‘Good companies like to put employees in slightly uncomfortable positions so that they can find outwhere they shine. And changes in career direction happen as a result of that process – employees discover they enjoy and excel in a new area of work, broadening their experience,’ he explained.

Schlumberger also has a policy of promoting people internally, and the effect of this is that often people on a project have worked with each other before, albeit in a different context, so they already have a connection. There is a conscious creation of networks within the company, something that Schlumberger sees as a source of its strength.

The business dating game

Deloitte’s Head of Business Development, Don Kinnersley, discussed how networking is an essential skill for career development – and that conferences such as IP Week are like a ‘dating game’ for business. His advice on networking and career development was firmly based on first principles – the most valued people in a company are those who bring work in, and to do that you need to be connected. For example, business owners and senior partners are usually in the position they are in because they know people in the marketplace. ‘You will progress your career better if you build your contacts now, and the quicker you start on that process the quicker you will reap the benefits,’ he said.

Interestingly, though, Kinnersley was not suggesting that you should get to know just anyone. In fact, he advised against a completely utilitarian approach to networking: ‘I don’t want you to get to know anyone you don’t like – you won’t get on with everyone, and there are plenty of other people you will get on with. It only works if there is a real connection. There must be something genuine between you.’

Questions from delegates elicited some fascinating responses from Bittleston and Kinnersley, including a range of practical advice – keep in touch with people you know, do the work which makes you happiest, use LinkedIn but use it effectively, and be honest and genuine about why you want to make contact with people.

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